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Norway’s new academic partnerships with global South
At a conference on internationalisation and mobility held in Stavanger from 9-10 March 2016, Norway – which has a long history of collaboration with African higher education – unveiled its big new programme for academic partnerships with the global South.

The conference was organised by the Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Education or SIU, which will administer the programme called NORPART – Norwegian Partnership Programme for Global Academic Cooperation.

NORPART’s overall aim is “to enhance the quality of higher education in Norway and developing countries through academic cooperation and mutual student mobility”.

It replaces the Quota Scheme, which until recently awarded scholarships to students from developing countries – and nations in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia – for full degree study in Norway. The objective was to provide relevant education that would benefit students’ home countries on their return.

Focus on postgraduate, internationalisation

According to Jon Gunnar Simonsen of SIU, the NORPART programme will support partnerships focused at masters and PhD level.

While under the Quota Scheme students went to Norway for degree study, NORPART will support exchanges and joint curriculum development, with degrees for students from the South granted by their home institutions or southern partners in project consortia.

The initiative is jointly funded by Norway’s Ministry of Education and Research, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Dr Bjørn Haugstad, state secretary to Minister of Education and Research Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, emphasised that it was a priority for Norway to internationalise the higher education sector, and strengthen research in developing countries. He pointed out the enormous challenges facing the world, which require global collaboration including in education.

Based on a study on international development trends and institutional challenges, Dr Andrée Sursock, senior advisor to the European University Association, said internationalisation was growing in importance in universities across Europe – and Norway was no exception.

According to SIU Director Gro Tjore, NORPART will include funding for project development such as meetings, joint curricular development and the creation of educational materials.

It will also support implementation of educational cooperation through student mobility, research, joint teaching and supervision, field courses and summer schools.

The programme will be based on common academic interest and mutuality – which has so far eluded most collaboration, especially with developing countries.

The fact that NORPART will support the development of knowledge sharing and building of networks fits well with Africa’s continental agenda to set up centres of excellence and knowledge networks in Africa.

As University of Oslo Rector Ole Petter Ottersen affirmed, universities must show global responsibility by working together to face global challenges.

First call for proposals

SIU has invited Norwegian higher education institutions to apply for project development funding, “to facilitate applications for long-term project cooperation” in NORPART.

This first call will fund preparatory visits and development of proposals for long-term projects. A maximum of NOK2 million (US$240,000) is available, with projects awarded up to NOK50,000 (US$6,000).

The deadline for online submission of applications is 22 April 2016. Applicants will be notified of the outcome by 9 May. After this, funding will be disbursed and institutions will have until early September to implement preparatory project activities and until 1 October 2016 to produce final project accounts and a report describing activities and project results.

Many positives

One new development from the initiative is that it will allow for movement of students and staff in both directions. The Quota Scheme mainly facilitated mobility from developing countries to Norway, without reverse mobility.

Norwegian students will now have opportunities to participate in projects within African universities, thus enhancing internationalisation efforts in Africa.

It is also hoped that because the programme is based on short exchanges, it could stem brain drain, which has been one of the negative consequences of mobility for African countries.

The project promotes sharing of knowledge and expertise, with emphasis on students and staff working together, which was not emphasised in the Quota Scheme.

It also covers all fields of education and is not concentrated on a few. This allows for more diversity within projects that will be supported through the initiative, and is also aimed at enhancing internationalisation at home for non-mobile students.

Some challenges

It is notable that the new Norwegian initiative could face some challenges or shortcomings.

While the initiative intends to transfer credits that participating students attain, credit transfer has been a major problem for exchange and mobility in Africa and could be one challenge the initiative could face. At the same time, it could stimulate development of credit transfer systems in Africa.

It is not clear whether NORPART will enable African countries to achieve the intended quality of programmes and enhanced internationalisation.

Therese Eia Lerøen, president of the National Union of Students in Norway, called on universities to ensure that collaborations lead to meaningful internationalisation including the integration of international students into campus activities.

It was also stressed that curriculum development initiatives need to be carefully undertaken so as not to reproduce Norwegian knowledge systems in African universities. More publicity and discussions on the programme should have already taken place in Africa.

Some of the requirements of NORPART, such as institutions needing to have long-time experience with collaborations, might mean replication of most of the partners Norwegian universities had in previous partnerships. Deliberate efforts could be made to ensure that new networks are created.

As pointed out by Peter Maassen, professor of higher education at the University of Oslo and director of the Higher Education Development Association, NORPART also needs to fit into some of the new higher education initiatives in Africa.

NORPART does not support scientific equipment and infrastructure, which might mean that successful African universities will mainly be those that have developed sufficient infrastructure to support research and knowledge sharing. This would deny young universities opportunities to develop research and knowledge production capacities.

The academic degrees offered through the programme will largely be issued by universities in developing countries, meaning that participating students will not obtain degrees from institutions in Norway.

This might be greeted with dismay by some students, since participation in such international programmes for some students is to enable them to attain a qualification from abroad.

Conclusion

African universities need to strategically respond to the initiative to enable them to strengthen internal research capacities and develop new doctoral programmes, train more PhDs, raise the quality of their education and find more opportunities to internationalise their campuses.

James Otieno Jowi is executive director of the African Network for Internationalization of Education or ANIE based at Moi University in Kenya.
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